Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Defense of Classical Theism #8: God's Attributes

In the last post, we saw that if something is composite (either composed of physical parts or more fundamental parts, like actual states and possible future states), then it can't hold itself together because it would have to exist and not-exist at the same time. So something else must hold together the thing that is composite. That "something else" is either A) composite, or B) not composite. If it is A, then it too needs something else to hold it together and we keep going. If B, then we have our conclusion.

Something not composite cannot be a composite of actual and possible, and so must be either just actual or just possible. But something cannot be just possible with no actual existence, because it would simultaneously not exist (because it has no actual existence) and exist (because it is an existing thing that is only possible).

So a non-composite thing must be purely actual. That is, no capability for change even in principle. It has no parts whatsoever. What would it be like?

Non-Physical: It could not be composed of matter or energy, because matter and energy are both changeable and are hence composed of the actual and the possible.

Spaceless: It could not be located in any particular location in space, because then it would be changeable in principle, and hence a mixture of actual and possible.

Timeless: It could not be located within time, because then it would be possibly older than it is now. But it has no possibilities. So it is timeless.

One: Because it is timeless and spaceless, all beings of pure actuality are the same being. Also, if there were more than one such being, there would be some way of telling them apart and so one would have a feature that the other lacked (such as location, size, etc). But something of pure actuality has no unrealized possibilities, and so it lacks nothing. So all beings of pure actuality are one.

Omnipotent: As the causal source of anything that ever occurs or could occur, it can do anything. In addition, if there were things it could not do, then this would be an unrealized possibility, which it does not have.

Omniscient: As the thing that makes all facts true and keeps everything in existence, it does not have knowledge but rather is knowledge itself. In addition, if it possessed less than absolute knowledge, it could possibly learn more. But something that is purely actual has no unrealized possibilities. This topic will also be revisited in future posts.

Perfect: As we saw in part 1 and part 3, there must be not just individuals, but structure or types as well. So each individual (such as Mt St Helens) belongs to a category or type (volcanoes). But each individual has flaws that make it an imperfect version of its archetype. An individual dog, for example, will have injuries, or a gimpy leg, or perhaps just flaws on the cellular level that make it an imperfect version of a dog. So when we speak of "perfection", we mean "getting as close as possible to its archetype". A thing of pure actuality, then, is perfect in the sense that it doesn't lack anything, or have any flaws. If it did. these would be unrealized possibilities, which it doesn't have by definition.

Simple: "Complex" means "consisting of many different and connected parts." And "simple" means "having or composed of only one thing, element, or part." But the non-composite thing is not composed of parts, so it is simple.

As you can see, from the mere fact that things change, come into and go out of existence, and are composites of the actual and the possible, there is a sustaining force that is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, One, simple, omnipotent, omniscient, and perfect. This everyone calls "God."


  1. I have 2 questions on the plausibility of god's timelessness.

    1. How does a timeless god who knows everything freely chose to create our world and not some other world?

    2. And how does god create time, if prior to time existing literally nothing can happen?

    Also, if god is declared perfect, and without flaw, who is that according to? Who makes that judgement and what standard is this flawlessness being judged by? I see many flaws with the god of the bible and Jesus. If my judgments don't count, then whose does and by what authority do they claim this right?

    Thank you.

  2. 1. I'm not exactly sure how this whole "perfect world" thing shakes down. I'd have to read up more on that.

    2. God's actions would already be complete, from his perspective. To quote Thomas Aquinas: "His entire existence is simultaneous. Succession is not found except in things that are in some way subject to motion; for prior and posterior in motion cause the succession of time. God, however, is in no sense subject to motion, as has been shown. Accordingly there is no succession in God. His existence is simultaneously whole."

    > if god is declared perfect, and without flaw, who is that according to?

    This philosophy includes essentialism, which you can read in part 1, #3 in the list here. So "perfection" means "being more like what it's supposed to be. For example, a more elephant-like elephant: both ears, intact trunk, etc.

    >I see many flaws with the god of the bible and Jesus.

    I never mentioned anything about the Bible or Jesus.

  3. For no. 2, I can't help but think how implausible it is that a personal being, who is said to be a mind, can somehow have all things in its existence simultaneous. I know of no god in any religion that is not distinctly temporal in nature as it is described. How can a mind even think if not for time?

    Saying god is more like what he's suppose to be, and therefore is perfect is still too vague. What is he supposed to be? And by what standard do we known and measure this by?

  4. The god of classical theism is a mind because it can hold the knowledge of forms, but it isn't a mind like us because it already knows everything. The only reason our minds require time is because we move from premise to conclusion as we figure things out. But an omniscient being wouldn't need to figure things out, as it would just know all the conclusions already, full stop.

    As for reconciling this with religious scriptures, I don't know. Perhaps they are anthropomorphized…?

    God is complete, not lacking in anything, because he has no potentials. This is what is meant by perfect.

  5. Then god is not a mind, it is a database, and cannot do anything, because all events require time. The only thing that minds do is think, and to think is a verb, it requires time. A timeless mind is by definition, non functional.

    If god has no potential then how does god become a creator? In order to be a creator, you must be create, until then you might be a potential creator, but you are not yet a creator. How can god be complete if without the universe, god is not yet a creator, and he gains the attribute of creator only after he creates? Seems that god is gaining, which is impossible for a complete being.

  6. This is why Aquinas is very careful to distinguish between things that are univocal and things analogical. We use the term "blind" in analogical ways when we say "Ray Charles is blind" and "love is blind". In a similar way, God is only intelligent in an analogical sense, not exactly like us.

    God does not need to become a creator; he already is. Finished.